The Benefits of Pharmaceutical Representatives in Health Care

JUNE 23, 2017
I know I am probably going to get some disagreement here and probably some emails (please feel free to!), but I feel that drug representatives have their place in the health care system. It is obvious that their role is to sell the drug they are tasked with selling and as pharmacists we must keep that in mind as we work with them. It is our job to protect and take care of our patients, which is definitely a different goal; however, given the right scenario, it does not have to be a mutually exclusive goal. With that in mind, here are my top reasons I work with and keep in touch with drug representatives:
1.       If they are selling an innovator or particularly beneficial drug (or vaccine), then both your goal and theirs is to increase the use of that product. Let’s say, for example, they are a pharmaceutical representative tasked with selling a particular vaccine. You know how pitifully low national vaccination rates are and you would like to help with this by increasing awareness of these two vaccines. In this case, there is no conflict and the representative can provide you with educational and advertising materials and might even put money behind your efforts.
2.       They can help you with financial assistance programs for their products. Let’s say you don’t necessarily think they are selling the best medication in its class; however, you also know of patients that are on the medication and/or physicians that prescribe the medication. In this case, we could agree that we would like to be able to help the patient find resources to afford their medication so that they’ll take it. The representative can help you with coupons you might not find online and coupons that might be online but that might not need to be activated, which is much easier because you can run the coupon before the patient arrives. 
3.       They can help you when you are in a crunch. This is a very specific example, but I once had a patient call me because they were discharged on insulin, they were uninsured, and they could not afford their medication. I had met a representative of one of the insulin products. I called her and asked her if there was any way to get the patient some samples; not only did she drive down to me that day to talk about solutions, but she had some samples dropped off at the doctor’s office and gave me all the information to pass on to the patient about how to get insulin through patient assistance. Not only did that representative do me a huge favor, but she might have saved the patient from a readmission or possibly saved their life – I would have had no other way to get them a basal insulin that they desperately needed. Once they had samples it could bridge them until the patient assistance was approved.  
4.       They can connect you with physician offices. If I were to call a physician office to try to come by just to speak with them and get to know them I would most likely be getting in the way of their busy day (or be perceived as such). If I want to speak with them about a specific issue or prescribing habit then that is even worse because they feel like they have to spend their lunch break defending themselves. However, if I wait until a drug rep is going to the office and bringing them lunch, I can tag along and in the process get to know the prescribers, the staff, etc. This relationship can go a long way later on if I need to speak with them! I know of several offices I would have never known if I hadn’t been following the food in the door. Once that relationship is there I have had more luck working with those offices. I would actually argue to say that if you want to work with prescribers to more effectively improve care you cannot do it without first developing that human connection with them and with their office staff.
5.       They can help market your programs and pharmacy. My pharmacy runs a discharge medication delivery service to deliver everything the patient needs to their bedside and the representatives for one of the NOACs really helped me get the program off the ground in both the cardiology and orthopedic wings. Not only did I go to the prescribers’ offices numerous times to be able to put in my ‘plug’ for the program (following the food of course!), but they printed little notes to attach to their coupons reminding the nurses to send the prescriptions down to my pharmacy. When they went to an office and heard about something that was not working they passed that information along to me, and most of the time I had not had anyone approach me about it yet. In doing so, I was able to address problems before they jeopardized the success of the program.

Alex Evans, PharmD, CGP
Alex Evans, PharmD, CGP
Alex Evans, PharmD, CGP, works in community pharmacy in Jacksonville, Florida, and is preceptor at the University of Florida and Florida AM University. He graduated from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro with a BS in Biology and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. He has worked in both the community and long-term care settings. He can be reached at
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